Kids Fitness Programs: Should They Really Lift Weights?

Developing The Perfect Kids Fitness Program


The commonly held belief that strength training for kids is dangerous to the growth plates is simply not accurate provided that appropriate guidelines are followed with respect to, specifically, exercise execution. In fact, improved sport performance, increased muscular endurance and enhanced bone strength are all likely benefits of resistance training for children.


Kids Fitness Programs


More over, an increased need for correct kids fitness programs due to the rigors of a typical soccer, football or baseball game place far more of a strain on the structures of kids than does a well-executed lift. In fact, Mel Siff in his book Facts & Fallacies of Fitness suggests that “stresses imposed on the body by common sporting activities such as running, jumping and hitting generally are far larger (by as much as 300%) than those imposed by Powerlifting or Olympic Lifting.”


The real crux of this issue stems from the argument of which type of resistance training is most safe or suitable. In North America, we tend to buy into the concept that fitness machines are most safe due to their static nature and fixed paths which remove our need to stabilize during a movement – which would be fine if the body actually worked like that, but it doesn’t! This is why I am so outspoken against ‘youth sized’ strength training machines. To the uneducated eye, they certainly appear more safe and prudent than training with free weights, especially in dynamic movements such as Olympic lifts… but are they? Should kids stay away from dynamic strength training exercises like the Olympic lift?

Dangers of Lifting in Kids Fitness Programs?


If there is not a fully qualified an exceptionally experienced coach involved, than yes – without question. However, can the Olympic lifts actually be beneficial for younger athletes… let’s examine that.


While machine-based strength training for children has been shown clinically to be positive, it does not appear that the clinical evidence supports anything other than the fact that isolated strength has increased. More over, due to their static nature, it can certainly be concluded that machine-based strength training does not positively impact coordination or movement skill – something that is extremely crucial for young athletes.


On the other hand, North American research has never sought out to prove whether or not Olympic Lifts are dangerous for young athletes; it has always just been assumed so. Furthermore, according to Mel Siff in Facts & Fallacies of Fitness, “Epidemiological studies using bone scans by orthopedists have not shown any greater incidence of epiphyseal damage among children who lift weights.


Kids Fitness Programs


On the contrary, bone scans of children who have done regular competitive lifting reveal a significantly larger bone density than those who do not lift weights – In other words, controlled progressive competitive lifting may be useful in improving the ability of youngsters to cope with the rigors of other sports and normal daily life”. In addition, because of their dynamic nature, Olympic Lifts are actually quite ideal for aiding in the development of coordination and movement skill.


I try whenever possible to make sure that physicians, parents and coaches here in North America don’t become too dogmatic with respect to their viewpoints on how children should exercise. Although North Americans view Olympic Lifting as entirely unsafe for pre-adolescents, they have been adopted as part of a physical education curriculum in sections of Europe.


Strength Training Tips for Youngsters:


– The essence of systemic strength training is found in basic activities such as running, jumping and throwing.  Be sure to have younger athletes use both sides of their bodies equally when learning unilateral skills.


– From a motor skills perspective, I have always found that children around the ages of 8 – 10 are best suited to start learning the form and function of basic lifts.  Start with body weight positioning, but don’t be afraid to teach ‘bar skills’ and patterning with light pre-weighted bars (5 – 8 pounds) or brooms.


– Reps and sets are an interesting topic… as opposed to conventional theory (3 sets of 15 – 20 reps), I have always found more success in teaching appropriate lift functioning by making the sets high (8 – 10) and the reps low (3 – 5).  In this set/rep range, kids are first taught the basics of set up and movement and then asked to re-produce the lift a minimal number of times per set.  This aids in developing quality motor sequencing and doesn’t afford the opportunity of developing poor habits during the multiple reps set.


Learn how to coach, program and perform the Olympic Lifts to help your young athletes on-field performance EXPLODE by picking up your copy of the IYCA Olympic Lifting Instructor Course today!


Kids Fitness Programs



21 Responses

  1. Alex Poole says:

    Hi Brian,

    You are so right and something I’ve been talking about with coaches and athletes near me…but for me the most important thing is not chronological age but physical maturity and mental maturity.

    I’ve had 13 year olds with better mental and physical ability than some 17 year olds.


    P.S. As long as the technique is spot on then it’s all good in my book 😉


  2. Dan Gordon says:

    I wish more parents would educate thmeselves on this topic. The upside is my son and the kids I train continue to out perform their non-lifting competitors.

  3. John Arnold says:

    I am in aggreement with Alex Poole. It is no so much the fact that physically that should not do it, it is the mental part of it. I have been training 7th and 8th graders for Youth Football and I have had a few 5th and 6th graders come along. These are group sessions. I find I have to baby sit the younger kids too much. Now some of the older kids are a little squirrely too but will get with it once I get on them and stay focused. The younger kids will just seemed to lose focus much easier. I keep them busy without much down time too.

    I think you have to do 1 on 1 with younger kids or partners of 2. No doubt I believe they can handle proportional weights to adult levels as long as they are brought along in good progression. Compound movements are essential and good sets of cleans and so forth along with plyos are good. Once they are strong enough from using the standard non ballistic movements I think you can introduce them to the Olympic lifts and such. Knock on wood I have had no injuries in the last 4 years of doing this.

    The kids that have done this summer camp have enjoyed far better athletic performance. Many became starters ahead of older players. These guys play in a very competitive league in KC. Their team usually does not get the best players because they do not have boundaries. So it is much like college where the best teams alway attract the best talent. This year they won their league consolation game which was a huge accomplishment for them. Interestingly I had the most turnout this last year for the summer training. Coincidence?

    I am also a Pro Natural bodybuilder and Train Bodybuilders as well. The Volume Training, “German Volume” and the Charles Poliquin “Volume Body Comp” works great. These are all similar with low rest intervals using low reps and high sets. Studies show an increase in GH when doing this. At 52 I need all I can get! This is very safe as it sub maximal weights so injuries are going to be less to joints.

  4. Josh Leeger says:

    Hi Brian,

    I like your post and I agree with you 100%! Bodyweight exercise is just as effective, and can be much more fun, than the strictures of weight training. But in this image-dominant culture, most kids are asking about weights by the time they’re 12.

    I actually follow the old Soviet guidelines for training kids in weightlifting…till they’ve practiced with a dowel/broomstick for at least a couple of years, or shown proficient movement patterns with that tool, they don’t get move on to the bar.

    I tell that to the kids I work with, and demonstrate how much stronger you have to be to perform certain bodyweight movements (like a 1-arm pushup) than their weightlifting “counterparts” (bench press).

    Plus, bodyweight exercise is easily “hidden” in game or play activities, which makes everything enjoyable.

    Progression is key for everyone, and especially for kids, who are laying down the habits that will carry them through the rest of their lives.


  5. David Walencewicz says:

    The physical level of the youth has to be evaluated prior to loading with weights.Getting youth to perform body weight training is a challenge in it self.I have seen a few kids age 13 that naturally looked ripped pumped but are challenged by push up and plank routines.
    This would not be my first or second phase of training with youth.

  6. Jesse says:

    My son is 11 year old and he’s 66lbs and he’ll be play Jayvee wich 135lbs what can i do to increase his strength

  7. Aaron Willms says:

    I have used the low reps-high sets format for movement/coordination training w/girls 12yrs and under and have found it to be very effective. As the kids fatigue they loose focus and become more concerned with just finishing the set rather than finishing it WELL. This format also allows more time for error correction in between sets. Brian you are my ambassador of KWAN…keep it up!

  8. Fred says:

    I was not sure at first, but the formatting of high sets/low reps with
    proper form sets the pace for solid gains in muscle strength and endurance.Keep it
    real man!

  9. Hi Brian,

    Absolutely right on the money.

    My own expertise is more to older athletes, cycling, and often weight loss, but sometimes I am asked questions at allexperts.com regarding children. It is good to know that someone with your experience in youth fitness agrees with what I have been saying for years.

    Have a great day


  10. Mark says:

    I’ve trained athletics since the age of 9, and I dnt remember a time when weight training wasn’t in my routine. Ofc at a small age we just did small weights and focused a lot on technique and some basic exercises to strenghten the core muscles. As far as I can remember, at the age of around 15, I was already doing regular weight sessions, and you could feel the difference! Now I’m 22 stopped training thou but I’m 6″3′ even taller than my parents, and considered very tall in my country. I think I can’t agree more with Brian here.

  11. Jim Bennett says:

    Dear Brian

    Thanks for the great article, I coach middle distance, 400/400m hur and combined event athletes in the UK. I totaly agree with you Brian and the girls in my group (14/15 year olds) who are doing weights for the 1st time this winter are showing great inprovements in there overall Strength and also have improved in there cross country races. Keep up the great work.
    Best wishes Jim Bennett

  12. Chris Chapman says:

    I am not sure what they do down in the U.S. But up here in Canada we have a Long Term Athlete Development Model (www.LTAD.ca), that addresses a lot of these issues and provides guidelines for parents, coaches, and trainers. Other countries (e.g. UK, Australia) have in-depth LTAD’s as well. I recommend any youth trainer and sport parent read over as many of these models as possible and inform themselves on different approaches to youth training what different countries are doing. These models take vast amounts of evidence-based research and simplify it into an easily understood document. From these people need to take what they like and what they don’t like, but at the very least they need inform themselves. If we can educate as many parents and coaches as possible, we can reach more youth and prevent as many injuries and negative sport experiences as possible.

  13. Tom Sadowski says:

    I started weight training at age 12. At age 16 I was hit by a car twice. Each time I got up, brushed myself off and carried my mangled bike 1 mile home. Last year a tree fell on me and again, I brushed myself off and continued my work. At age 44 I have yet to break a bone or have an orthopaedic operation. My knees are fine to squat rock bottom. My one regret is that my growth was stunted because I started weight training so early. Instead of being only 6’5″, I may have grown to 6’8″ or beyond. I’ll never know.

  14. fitness bootcamp says:

    If one decides to go out and put their children on a weight-training regimen, it’s important one should get aid from one who’s an expert in personal training. This way the child starts out very slow and correctly. With the right amount of help and support along the way, I think it’s fine to start out children to prepare them for their teens and early adulthood so they have a leg up on their peers in a variety of sports and activities.

  15. richard barvinchak says:

    I receive your correspondence. Today I was most intrigued by your coach or trainer subject. I was disappointed to find the link unrelated, leaving me in question. I open your stuff and am at the verge of getting involved with your youth training assocoation.
    Can you feed me the correct coach/trainer info to keep me going?

  16. G.P.GOSWAMI says:

    Thanks Brian.
    It is indeed a good & informative article
    and moreover a burning issue over the world.Please give your idea on strength training program for younger athletes of the developing countries.
    Can you suggest some more informations on the issue.

  17. Joey says:

    What age range are best suited to the 8-10 sets of 3-5 reps?

    And at what age or point of progression should we concider putting the young athletes to a normal set/rep ranges?

    Many thanks.

  18. John says:

    I would not start them on a 3-5 rep set until they are at least a junior in high school. they’re body really hasn’t matured enough for that serious of a schedule. Prior to that I would do a good deal of dumbell work.

  19. Rizz says:

    I constantly have this discussion about children weight training. It is hard to convince some parents. I am amazed how closed minded and ignorant some people still are

  20. Parisi Youth Athlete Training says:

    I think it is important for youth athletes to be guided by trained professions that know the limitations of a child’s physical ability. The Parisi youth athlete training program is one that helps them achieve improved strength, flexibility, agility and speed in a controlled environment from certified professionals.

  21. rick sewall says:

    Weight training for young athletes as described is fine, the only problem being that technique/skill training is more important, and weight training may distract from it. I am a soccer coach and feel that technique training, if done properly (which it usually isn’t), will go a long way to develop effective and injury free players . Use basic exercises to develop strength and flexibility. Stay away from the long pre season one or two mile run- it causes ACLs , especially in women.

Leave a Reply

Comment using: